MANILA - Government should crack down on syndicates, not minors used for their criminal activities, a senator said Thursday as President Rodrigo Duterte's congressional allies moved to amend a law to punish more youth offenders.
Criminal organizations have taken advantage of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act by tapping minors because they could not be held criminally liable under it, Sen. Francis Pangilinan acknowledged.
But Pangilinan, principal author of the law passed in 2006, said this was not enough reason to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old, which is being pushed by incoming House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez as part of Duterte's wide-reaching campaign against criminality.
"Eh di habulin yung sindikato. Bakit 'yung bata 'yung hinahabol?" Pangilinan told ABS-CBN News, citing the case of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino death convict in Indonesia.
Veloso was allegedly duped by an international drug ring into smuggling heroin into Yogyakarta Airport in 2010.
"Di ba dapat habulin yung mga sindikato? Ganun din sa kabataan. Ginagamit ng sindikato so dapat parusahan yung bata? Anong nangyari sa sindikato?" the senator said.
Pangilinan said he was open to improvements in the law, which also penalizes people who would "exploit" children into committing crimes. But he said children as young as nine years old should not be treated as criminals.
"Masyadong bata," he said, noting that amendments should instead focus on the gravity of the crime committed by minors.
A 12-year-old who murdered his parents to collect his inheritance, for example, should be treated differently from an offender of the same age who stole bread to feed his family, the senator said.
"So both of them have a criminal liability because they're both 12 or 13 or 9? I don't think that's right," he said.
Pangilinan recalled that the age of liability was originally set at 12 years old when he presented the committee report on the proposed law in the Senate in 2006. He said it was later changed to 15 years old during plenary deliberations.
Asked if he was willing to make 12-year-old children criminally liable, he said: "We'll see."